What do you want to be when you grow up?
I hate that question. And I also hate any question that pertains to my future or what I’m going to do with my degree. As a server, it’s not uncommon for my tables to ask what I studied in college. The natural progression of questions leads them to ask what I’m going to do with my psychology degree because obviously I can’t do anything with just a bachelor’s degree. Let’s stop right there. Why do I have to do anything with my degree? Why is it that society expects life to occur linearly? It’s as though everyone’s life is programmed to this universal proceeding formula: Go to high school, go to college, go to graduate school, get a job, have a family, die. How many of your friends do you know followed this formula? Who didn’t take a year or five off to travel or to figure out who they are? Now for those that actually did follow this formula, either for personal aspirations or because of succumbing to the pressures of society, how many of those people are happy and can say they have lived a fulfilling life?
Society conditions us to feel dissatisfied with the present by constantly asking questions about our future. What are you going to do when you graduate? What do you want to be when you’re older? When are you getting married? When will you have kids? Although these questions might have the best of intentions, they’re extremely counterproductive for creating peace within the moment. It’s as though we can’t be happy until we’ve accomplished x, y, or z. We can’t be happy until we have our life completely figured out. Let me let you in on a little secret…no one really has life figured out. The only difference between people is their confidence with knowing that they don’t have life figured out and their ability to accept that fact.
I feel as though teenagers and especially young adults experience constant, unnecessary stress. One of the frequent concerns from my friends is, “I don’t know what I’m doing with my life.” Why do we feel obliged to have our entire life figured out? Because society tells us we do. Realistically though, not a lot goes according to plan. So why stress ourselves out by planning our future? I challenge people instead to focus on what they want to do right now. Today. In this moment. Not in 30 years time, not in five years time, heck, not even in six months time. What do you want to do today? I think part of the reason people are so hesitant to commit to graduate school or finding jobs is because they think they are married to that profession. We are conditioned to believe that if I go to graduate school, I HAVE to get a job in something pertaining to that degree. Which means choosing a degree that I want to do for the rest of my life. And that mindset is so destructive. We are changing every second of every day so isn’t it a little naïve to think that our interests and our passions aren’t going to change as we age and mature? As we experience the unpredictability of life? Many people are led into the fields that they are in because of something that has happened to them or to someone else, something they could not account for. Something they couldn’t predict. Something they couldn’t plan for.
I recall watching a fantastic speech by Steve Jobs and I will attach the link to this post. In this commencement speech addressed to Stanford graduates in 2005, Jobs talked about why he went to college. He went to college because his adopted parents promised his biological parents that they would send him to college, and so he went. And he hated it. He fulfilled that requirement and dropped out. He returned as a drop in and decided to only take classes that he was interested in rather than the required classes he wasn’t interested in. He ended up taking a class in calligraphy and loved it. Looking forward, he was probably thinking (much as we all would), what the hell am I going to do with a class in calligraphy? Again, looking forward, you would probably think nothing. At least nothing conventional or practical. Fast forward 10 years and because of that class, he was able to come up with the versatile fonts for Macintosh. Makes sense when you look backwards right? And that was exactly his point. You cannot align the dots moving forward, you can only do that looking backwards. So instead of trying to figure out how you are going to use this present experience in the future, focus instead on investing in things that you enjoy doing in this moment. Even if they are as bizarre as a calligraphy course.
The other fantastic piece of advice that Jobs offers in this speech is based on the fragility of life. When he was confronted with having cancer, he started to question what he was doing every day. Before going to work every morning, he looked in the mirror and asked himself, If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today? If the answer was no too many days in a row, that is when he knew it was time for a change. Life is precious; too precious to be spent doing things that you do not enjoy. One of my favourite phrases that people use is, “I got myself a big girl job!” Whenever someone says that I immediately envision an office job, lots of money, and a great deal of unhappiness. But that’s because society conditions us into thinking that money is the most important thing in this world. Not our happiness. A part of me dies a little inside whenever I hear that phrase because I invariably think the individual is willingly trading their happiness and sanity for social status and money. Success is not defined by how much money you have. Or what car you drive. Or how many friends you have. Success is defined by your happiness. Because what’s the point of having money if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing? We’re brought into this world with nothing and we leave this world with nothing. So instead of investing all of one’s energy into accumulating lots of material things, I challenge you instead to invest your energy into things that you enjoy. Experiences that will add value to your life. That serve you. Grow you. Change you. Please you.
So when people ask me what I’m doing with my life I tell them that I’m doing it right now. I’m currently working as a server and I thoroughly enjoy it. I’m meeting people who see me, who understand me, and who encourage me to pursue certain inspirations in the future. People who are shaping my passions and interests. I’m also coaching and enjoying influencing the younger generation. I feel strongly about imparting my experiences and insights with this younger generation in hope to reduce the stress they might encounter. To be a mentor to them. And to essentially be the person I wish I had when I was younger. As far as what I want to do next, I don’t know. And I’m perfectly okay with not knowing. I anticipate that coaching will continue to be in my future, as will writing. As far as using my psychology degree, I’m using it every day. I have every intention of going to graduate school and who knows, perhaps I’ll end up getting multiple degrees as my interests change with time and experience. The beautiful thing about life is that it’s unpredictable. Trying to predict unpredictability is a sure way to dissatisfaction and unhappiness. And a path I do not choose to follow.
To those who ask those good intentioned questions about individuals’ futures, I challenge you instead to ask about their present. Ask them what their interests are. Ask them if they enjoy what they’re doing. By placing focus on the future, it increases the likelihood that individuals will feel inadequate with their present situation. We live in a world where we’re constantly being compared to everyone else through Facebook, Instagram, social status etc. It’s time that we change our perspective on success and focus instead on happiness. It’s okay to not have life figured out. It’s okay to not know what you want to do for the rest of your life, or even what you want to do next. Find what you’re interested in now and do that. Don’t be in a rush to “grow up” – life will happen and you will naturally grow with it. Learn to accept what you don’t know and make peace with not knowing what will happen next. Life is a beautiful, unpredictable mess. And that is the best advice I can give.
“The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” (Steve Jobs, 2005).